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#1 Luke Allein

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 04:07 PM

I watched "Casino" again the other day. This may sound ridiculous, but when I saw that in 1997, I can honestly say it's one of the movies that changed my life.

I always had a few movies I was obssessed with growing up, had seen them hundreds of times but never gave any thought about production or the craft and artistic process that went into making a film.

But when I saw Casino for the first time...it just floored me. I remember I sat there for like 20 minutes and couldn't believe what an impact it had on me. The editing, the acting, the directing, the look (cinematography), everything. I had never been so overwhelmed by so many aspects of a movie, particularly ones that I never really paid attention to. Hell, I never even considered the impact a "director" had on a film. It never occured to me that this movie was so good because one person's vision made it that way. The next week I rented everything I could find that had the names "Scorsese" and "De Niro" involved, and that was it. I changed my major in college to "Film study", and the rest is film geek history.

Every time I watch that movie, I notice something else. These years later when I've become much more interested in cinematography and now worked in the field and had some experience, I still can't get over how technical the camera is in this. I checked the credits, and there were three steadicam operators on this! Of course the great Colin Anderson was involved too. (I'm so honored to have been able to work with that guy so early in my career)

But what really gets me, after all this digression, is Richardson's cinematography. There's no way you can watch a single picture he's worked on and NOT known within five minutes it's him.

What does he do to achieve that hazy, fuzzy look with the light? I noticed in a lot of scenes in "Casino", they'll be sitting around a table and it almost looks like the light is coming from underneath the table, that the table is the key light source. It seems like he uses a lot of harsh, direct light but somehow softens it up so it glows.

There's a shot in the famous scene where Ace takes the two cheaters in the back room and smashed the guy's hand with a hammer. When the other culprit is brought in, De Niro, on the line: "Now I'm gonna give you a choice; you can have the money and the hammer, or you can just walk out of here. Ya can't have both." He walks to his mark, and at the end of the line he's standin there and this crazy harsh, glowing light is right on his hands where he's holding his cigarette and on the top of his head. It's just crazy looking (in a good way), and I was thinking "What is the aesthetic motivation to have him stop in that spot and have such an exclusive light on his hand?"

It really stands out, and I've never really seen anyone else utilize this effect. One of the scenes it stands out the most is towards the end, after Nicky and Ace have their argument in the desert and are kind of on the outs. Ace and his entourage walk into a night club/restaurant area in the Casino where Nicky and his crew are also sitting in a table across the room. Ace sits down and doesn't even acknowledge Nicky, much to Nicky's ire. (The shot starts out with "Whip It" from Devo on the soundtrack, and a gorgeous overhead tracking shot follows Ace and his people walking with an undercrank effect) The light in this scene is just super, super hazy and glowing.

Now, does Richardson do this in the development process, or is it a certain stock of film that he uses for this effect, or both, or is it lenses? What?? I'm just wondering how the hell he pulls that off. After shooting my own short film on 35 (mostly 5218 Kodak stock, I directed and had a DP) and then seeing in post, I'm fascinated on how to make certain effects on what stocks and with what light.

Problem is, it's all very complicated and technical and I'm quite a neophyte in this area. I'm a director and a rookie 2nd AC, if I want to go for a certain look I need to know how to achieve it. It's like painting on a pallette with different kinds of paint, only instead of a pallette it's a film frame and instead of paint it's film stock and processing.

I figure if I look into how to get such a blatant effect, like the stuff Richardson does, it'll pave the way to figure out how to get my own crazy looks and styles on film. So if anyone can tell me what he does to pull this off, I'd be much obliged.

Edited by Luke from the Valley, 02 December 2006 - 04:10 PM.

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#2 Max Jacoby

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 06:08 PM

You can see this effect in many films that Richardson shoots, JFK for instance. It's usually a combination of a very hot top light and a diffusion filter such as a Pro Mist on the lens that makes the overexposed area bloom.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 06:28 PM

Yes, that's pretty much it -- intensely focused lights, like very-narrow-spot (VSNP) bulbs in PARCAN's for example, and pretty much exposing for the fringes of the light (or the areas lit by the bounce) and letting the center go nuclear (not even worth metering) Then some diffusion to cause the light to spread, mostly ProMist filters but lately he's backed away from that look and was using nets on the lens.

Generally he uses medium-speed stocks. I believe most of "Casino" was shot on 200 ASA stock (5293) indoors, probably 100T outdoors.

Often the backlight is very toppy, almost a top light (sometimes it IS a top light). By keeping it somewhat back, the faces themselves generally are not burned out, just the shoulders and top of the head.

It's a style that evolved over time, probably most obviously around the time of "The Doors" and "JFK", but it occasionally shows up in earlier work.
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#4 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 08:29 PM

Luke,
Please change your user name to your real name. It's a rule on this forum.
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#5 Luke Allein

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Posted 02 December 2006 - 10:03 PM

Thanks! Wow, a pro mist filter can have that much effect? I had no idea.

Thanks for the breakdown, it's pretty cool.

Why can't we have nicknames in this forum? I really hate that. I hate my last name, I dont want it as my username.
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#6 Stephen Williams

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 04:42 AM

Why can't we have nicknames in this forum?



Hi Luke,

This is a profssional forum.

Stephen
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#7 Hal Smith

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 10:57 AM

Why can't we have nicknames in this forum?

You can use any signature you want - but it's protocol to use your real name as your username. That way you can still have your nickname - but follow forum policy.

We are posters, not posers, here.
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#8 Michael Ryan

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 11:15 AM

Hello All,

I thought I was one of the few that could see the glory of Robert Richardson's work.

In my opinion he is one of the best living cinematographers. Really, a master of the widescreen. So many people shoot in widescreen, but really don't understand how to use the space. Richardson is a master at it.

Most all of his films look incredible, but JFK is really a standout for me. HEAVEN AND EARTH is another.

THE AVIATOR was really a feast for the eyes.

He is an ultimate cinematographer at the very top of his game. I actually look forward to seeing films with his name on it reguardless of what the story is about or who is in it.

Mike
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#9 John Holland

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 11:40 AM

Hi yes he is great cinematogapher , but i thought "The Aviator " was the a great let down , S/35 and Di was poop , he is a guy who knows how to use Anormorphic , shame it wasnt used on this film . John Holland ,London.
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#10 Max Jacoby

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 12:53 PM

I think 'Snow Falling on Cedars' is Richardson's best work.
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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 01:05 PM

I think 'Snow Falling on Cedars' is Richardson's best work.


Me too. Following that, I'd say "JFK" is the best representation of his "hot toplight" approach and his classiest-looking movie. I have a soft-spot for that movie because this was made just before 200T stock came out (5293 EXR 200T) and after some grain problems on "The Doors", he decided to shoot most of "JFK" on 100T stock (in anamorphic!) which is why it looks so rich even with the ProMist diffusion. There is even some 50D stuff in there. I love the look of slow-speed film combined with diffusion.

A hard-to-find movie where he really went to town on the hot toplight / ProMist look is "City of Hope" (John Sayles). I don't think it is on DVD yet.

I was a little disappointed in "Casino" at the time because he switched to Super-35 (at the request of Scorsese and his love of zooms) and I thought it was less rich-looking than his anamorphic films. On DVD, of course, it's not so much of an issue. I was glad when he used anamorphic for Scorsese's "Bringing Out The Dead" and sorry when he went back to Super-35 for "The Aviator" (which almost shouldn't have been in 2.35 anyway.) I can understand an action film like "Kill Bill" being in Super-35 though.

On "Nixon" you see him back-off from his use of diffusion, and being mostly shot on 200T stock in anamorphic, it also has a great look.

There is some nice stuff in all of his movies, even a mediocre movie like "Four Feathers."
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#12 Dan Goulder

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 01:33 PM

Although I'm surprised no one has mentioned this one yet, I consider "Natural Born Killers" to be the most all-out, no-holds-barred example of Richardson's work...a real masterpiece of cinematography without constraint.
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#13 Luke Allein

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 01:56 PM

I forgot Bringing Out the Dead too, good call. That's another fantastic looking movie. (That just about everyone hated; it might be one of my favorite films Marty ever did, I love it)

I still can't believe, newbie that I am, that a filter can have that much effect. How did Richardson come to find that look, I wonder. Just experimenting? I mean it seems a little risky to have such a unique look, do you think directors in the beginning were like "You're crazy?" That's a ballsy move to have such a signature style to your photography, I would think.
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 08:27 PM

Everyone has known since the beginning of photography that overexposed areas combined with diffusion filters equals halation (glowing). You see this in Lillian Gish films of the silent era, shot through nets in backlight.

The key is to keep the areas of extreme overexposure limited in size in the frame, otherwise (1) the image will look too washed-out, and (2) you won't see the glowing because it needs to be framed against a darker background. The more intense the tiny area of overexposure, the lighter the diffusion filter can be and still give you a good halation artifact.

Robert Richardson basically took a certain look, pushed to an extreme, and used it often enough to become a signature style. To do that, he had to have the support of the director (in his case, Oliver Stone). I remember after seeing "JFK" I tried to create that hot toplight effect but I really wimped out -- just a top light that was two-stops over -- and when the producer saw it in dailies, she said "Well, I guess we can print that darker" when it was hardly as bright as I wanted it to be! A year or two later and a producer wouldn't blink twice when they saw that effect, but in the early 1990's, it was still a bit new.

You can see Richardson trying overexposure and halation from diffusion even on his earliest films, like "Eight Men Out" or "Platoon", just not as extreme.
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#15 Jim Feldspar

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Posted 03 December 2006 - 11:14 PM

I think 'Snow Falling on Cedars' is Richardson's best work.



I was astonished at how beautiful the look of "Snow Falling on Cedars" appeared. Too bad I never saw all
of it because, despite an interesting story, good actors and sets, sound,etc., somehow that movie is so
boring in the way that it proceeds that I could never watch it all the way through. Someday I may just
watch it with the sound off and the radio on because it does look so incredible.
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#16 J. Lamar King

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Posted 04 December 2006 - 12:14 AM

I have to agree about "Snow Falling on Cedars." Certainly Richardsons best and in my opinion one of the best cinematagraphic efforts period.

His style is so strong that it even came through in Errol Morris' doc "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control." Hot top-lit topiary!
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#17 Luke Allein

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Posted 04 December 2006 - 02:08 AM

Wow, I never even realized he shot "Platoon". That gives me something else to look for next time I watch it. Thanks Dave! Thanks for all the info, it's fascinating to learn this stuff.

Edited by Luke Allein, 04 December 2006 - 02:08 AM.

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#18 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 04 December 2006 - 02:29 AM

Everyone has known since the beginning of photography that overexposed areas combined with diffusion filters equals halation (glowing).


I noticed he did this quite a bit in "Kill Bill" as well, especially during the B&W scenes at the church and during the infamous Crazy 88's fight. I felt Kill Bill was some of his best work as well. A lot of people felt it was QT getting closer to mastering his craft regarding camera movements, framing, etc. But Richardson I believe had a HUGE hand in how that film looked.

It's funny, as soon as I finished typing that last paragraph, I took a peek at his credits on IMDb and immediately all the images and usage of the aforementioned technique came racing into my head. It truly is a style of his own.
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#19 Thomas Worth

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Posted 04 December 2006 - 05:58 AM

and letting the center go nuclear (not even worth metering)

For those who are interested, "nuclear" can be somewhere around 5 or 6 stops of overexposure. You'll need that much to get the halation. Here's are a couple examples where I overexposed by 5 stops. Note the white shirt, which was planned into the shot to get the most from the effect:

Posted Image

Posted Image
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#20 Lav Bodnaruk

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Posted 04 December 2006 - 07:12 AM

Could you please explain the term 'nuclear' to me? Is it all about the halation?

I played with some effects in AF just now, adding Colorize Glow effect (Boris plug-in) to the sample... to try and achieve the glow effect whilst adding 'warmth' to it (for the purpose of preparing for the short i want to shoot with CSI Miami look).

before:
Posted Image

After:
Milan___BCC_Colorize_Glow_09.jpg
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